It’s not the end of the world – Climate Change& Quantitative Easing (Printing Money)

It’s not the end of the world – Climate Change& Quantitative Easing (Printing Money)

I have wanted to write about the similarity between the two most potentially transformative societal issues confronting us,  Climate Change & Quantitative Easing (AKA Printing Money).   Of recent the latest debacle in a spreadsheet error by Rogoff and Reinhart in their paper “Growth in a Time of Debt” has led my writing astray.   However this issue further substantiates the similarity.   I am sure my readers know that there was also an issue with climate change data.   The most famous was the hockey stick graph presented in the IPCC report.  The graph originally came from a report done by Michael Mann in the paper “Northern Hemisphere Temperatures During the Past Millennium: Inferences, Uncertainties, and Limitations”.  (One difference is the climate change titles are much longer than economic papers!)

Though the recent debacle includes a simple spreadsheet error the biggest difference from what was reported to what is being challenged by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin is based on how one treats data and what one excludes or includes.   Mr. Herndon and team believe since more data was available for other countries they should be weighted more no matter the differences in economy or time period.  Many of the same arguments were made to refute the Mann graph.   In the end, BOTH data sets from Mann and Rogoff can be presented to be less dramatic than what both authors presented.   However in BOTH cases it does not eliminate the issue that both have presented.  In Rogoff case, Mr. Herndon and team state and their own data shows that high debt does not likely lead to better outcomes relative to a lower debt situation.   The Herndon and team did conclude there is no magic number that leads to a NEGATIVE growth.   However they do note that growth is much less than it would be when debt levels grow above the 90% level.   In Mann case, one could argue the graph he presented was on the high-end of uncertainty but the end message no matter what statistical approach you use there is some warming relative to the last 1000 year perhaps just not as dramatic as Mann’s graph.

We can ignore both the issues just because of some technicalities and potential showmanship or we can pay attention to these both very critical points because they contain some probability.  We can argue to death to the extent of probability, but there is some threshold that action becomes required no matter what.   I believe we have crossed that threshold a while ago in both issues.   In terms of actionable items I am not as extreme as some could be since everything is a probable outcome in my mind.   Actions need to be commensurate with the probability and timing of the impact.   And both issues probability and timing may change as more information and responses are made.

Getting back to the discussion of similarity, both are issues that rely on sacrifice of the future for the current state.   Clearly it is “easier” and “cheaper” to continue to burn fossil fuel versus transform the economy.   The consequences may be dire, but they are many years off.   It is also easier and politically more appealing to increase the money supply driving investments now and have the savers and the future generation deal with the pain later.   In each case one could argue we don’t really know the future and perhaps even solutions in the future we cannot predict now will come to fruition.  However I would attest that is very poor planning.

There are measures we do each day thinking of the future.  Some are simple and have been engrained in society – such as buckling up.   We buckle up because it can save our lives.   The odd of getting into a serious car accident in your lifetime is 30%.   I am not arguing for you not to buckle up, but to show we do act when probabilities are not as great along as the action can be commensurate with the risk and its probability.  I am sure you can find many climate deniers to admit there is a 20-30% probability they are wrong – of course that means they are 70% confident it is not.    Nonetheless this would argue for action at SOME level if one cared about the future.

Both climate change and quantitative easing are actions that are not apparent at the moment similar to indulging on funnel cake and other unhealthy foods.   It feels good now but eventually you will likely get obese and have health issues not worth the gains gathered from the near term enjoyment of sweets.   In fact, it will typically be better to emit and print money now.   The ultimate consequence of each of them requires a view over many years if not hundreds of years.

On the point of obesity, it clearly shows society is not ready for problems requiring long-term thought.  Obesity in the US is very high.  This is a matter of caring about what you eat and the long-term issues involved with your choices.  We are a society designed for Carpe-Diem and keeping up with the Jones.   It may be quite pointless to argue the science of climate change and/or long-term impacts of quantitative easing when society could really care less.  It amazes me to see such low savings in both general and retirement savings.   So much of society is living on debt.   By that logic people don’t really focus on the long-term.  I can see somewhat the rationale for many religions to eliminate interest charges – usury.   Most religions are focused on maintaining/reducing our vices – e.g. Ten Commandments.   I think they realize debt living is not healthy.  Living on debt makes you feel good in the moment, but any day it can overwhelm you with a change in your life.  A humble lifestyle is too easily gone with the ability to borrow money.  We cannot solve these two very large issues without changing society to think longer term.   If people do not care about their own lives and cannot plan even their meals to live healthy, do we really expect them to be able to comprehend and plan for climate change which impacts us significantly in 100 years?

Climate change to me seems more tangible and more discussed with various opinions across academia compared to quantitative easing.  This may be based on my career largely in the energy space.  However I do read quite a bit and find much more literature on climate than quantitative easing impacts.   Climate change certainly seems to have much more historical data with ice core samples thousands of years old.   The oldest data set Rogoff and Herndon was working with was 1830.  Given this I thought I put some graphs up from various recent reports just so you see why I am alarmed with quantitative easing even though the “market” is doing well.

We are in a world so dependent on debt and fossil fuels.  Current trends on climate change and quantitative easing cannot be changed until we change the mindsets of people to think ahead.  Planning is gone for Carpe Diem.   I like the concept to live for the moment, but what if the next moment depends on how you live in this moment.  Do you want more moments?  We do not live in Hollywood we live in reality.   Please take care of yourselves – eat healthy – do not over-extend your finances – reduce the temptation to keep up with the Jones.

The world will not end because of climate change and quantitative easing.  However the world could be very different and potentially less inhabitable and stable if we don’t start dealing with some of our issues which require thought.  The probabilities of significant harm to society may not be significant (+50%) but given the extent of outcomes it does make it worthwhile to do some actions similarly as we buckle up.

Your very concerned and thoughtful Energy Analyst,

David K. Bellman


“What is the hardest thing in the world – To think” Ralph Waldo Emerson.


1 Comment

  1. Supports my thesis climate change planning near to impossible as people cant even plan for themselves much less the next generation –

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